The governor of Minnesota has ordered state agencies to ready themselves for the advent of cannabis legalization — but many lawmakers think such a marijuana bill is unlikely to pass this year.
“My agencies have been tasked to put all of the building blocks in place, from Revenue to the Department of Public Safety to the Department of Health,” said Governor Tim Walz. “We will have everything ready to go, and we will be able to implement it in Minnesota the minute the Legislature moves this.”
But he faces a Republican-controlled state senate that seems dead-set on keeping recreational marijuana nice and illegal. “It’s my position that it’s not good for Minnesota. It’s dead as far as I’m concerned in the Senate for next year,” Republican Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka told Minnesota Public Radio. He cited concerns over dangerous driving, children getting their hands on the drug, and addiction issues.
Two legalization bills were presented at the beginning of the year by Senators Melisa Franzen and Scott Jensen and Representative Mike Freiberg. The similar plans would legalize use for adults 21 years old and up, and set up a licensing to taxing system, as well as one for regulating health and safety within the industry. Those proposals also include plans for social equity programs to address both the biased fall-out of the war on drugs, and services to take on driving under the influence of marijuana.
Last year, a legalization bill received a single hearing in the state senate before it stagnated. But marijuana advocates are already gearing up for 2020 legislative proposals, which many say could be more realistic should the Republicans lose seats in the mid-term elections.
House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler has already announced plans to be the main sponsor on such a bill. “It’s a big issue that needs a lot of attention to be done well,” he said about his decision to leap into the fray. He added that he would embark on a series of “listening sessions” around the state to see what Minnesotans’ primary concerns and hopes were in regards to legalizing cannabis.
“I think most of us who have looked at the issue think that legalization is the path we have to take,” Winkler said. “But I don’t want to prejudge that until we’ve had that conversation with Minnesotans.”
Few states have gone the legislation route when it comes to successfully regulating adult-use marijuana. In fact, Illinois has been the only place in the United States when such a policy change was not accomplished through a voter referendum.
Earlier this summer, a Minnesota Medical Association survey found that the majority of the state’s doctors consider recreational marijuana legalization to be a medically important issue. The same study showed that only 39 percent of Minnesota doctors oppose the legalization of adult-use cannabis. By March, Minnesota had 1,500 health care practitioners signed up to recommend medical marijuana to their patients.
Minnesota’s medicinal marijuana program started in July 2015, and was regarded as one of the country’s strictest. Patients with one of 13 qualifying health conditions lose their gun rights when they enroll in the program, and research suggests that there are more people dropping out of the program than are continuing to be enrolled in it.